The Singapore R&D Centre was upgraded in conjunction with its 40th anniversary, and received expanded capability updates such as upgraded laboratories, two fully-equipped test kitchens, sensory evaluation rooms and more.
The upgraded centre’s relaunch was officiated by Singapore Minister of Trade and Industry Gan Kim Yong in a hybrid physical-virtual event.
According to Nestle Zone Asia, Oceania and Sub-Saharan Africa (AOA) CEO Chris Johnson, the South East Asian region is ‘incredibly important’ to the firm and the upgraded centre is crucial for it to keep up with what local consumers are looking for in food.
“South East Asia is incredibly important to Nestle – it makes up one-third of our business in the AOA region and we see a lot more opportunity for growth here too,” Johnson said during the relaunch event.
“We have achieved the current success we have in the region by making sure to understand local nuances and building up an understanding of each separate market, but consumer tastes are changing at a rapid pace and we need R&D centres like this one in Singapore to power the development of new products that [appeal to families] which are healthier and more sustainable.”
One of the main areas that the upgraded R&D Centre will be focusing on will be food upcycling, also called ‘waste stream valorisation’, which will look at reducing food waste by taking materials which would formerly be discarded to be valorised or processed into new products.
“Waste stream valorisation [has already been happening in Nestle] – in 2019 we created a unique chocolate where all ingredients were made entirely from cocoa, using no refined sugar or sweeteners at all but instead using the cocoa pulp to sweeten it,” Nestle Head of Global Product and Technology Development Thomas Hauser said.
“In Australia too, we have used the red coffee cherry which is usually discarded as waste, but now collected and extracted to make the NESCAFE NATIV Cascara drink [which is a better-for-you adult beverage option] – showcasing that there are many trendy and healthy opportunities in this area to be pursued.”
Similar work will be undertaken at the Singapore R&D Centre, which is doing a lot of work with some of the region’s biggest brand names such as Milo and NESCAFE.
“Taking Milo ingredients for example, there is a lot of barley spent grain which is currently being used for animal feed, but has potential to be valorised into other products, [especially] as the processing plant in Singapore is the largest in the world for malt extraction,” Nestle R&D Singapore Partnership manager Cindy Koh.
“Now we are also looking to valorise for a number of other products such as ice cream, plant-based and more to reduce waste materials, and have partnered up with government agencies such as the Singapore Food Agency to tackle related challenges such as upcycling processes in order to get sustainable product development.”
No full switch to plant-based in the mid-term
Another main area of focus for the centre will be plant-based innovation. Nestle has made no secret of its ambitions to grow its plant-based portfolio and market in Asia, and Johnson maintained confidence that this will grow to be a vital category for the firm even in ASEAN where uptake is not yet as mature as in the west.
“Plant-based is really a global trend propelled by health, sustainability and a rise in interest in animal welfare – there are different levels of market development, comparing the US or EU to ASEAN, the latter is not as [mature yet], but interest is on the rise and we still expect this to grow to become an important category,” he said.
Responding to a query from FoodNavigator-Asia on whether this increased focus on plant-based means this could potentially overtake the importance of foods made from animal proteins for the firm in the future, he said that this is still unlikely in the mid-term.
“We do believe that plant-based will grow here in ASEAN though it is small today, but dairy is a very large category for us and although more and more alternates will come in, it is hard to imagine in the mid-term that we will become a plant-based company,” he said.
“What we can see is that there is a need for all of these – meat-based, dairy-based, plant-based – and we will ensure we try to meet the needs for all consumers in all of these categories.”
Nestle R&D Accelerator
Nestle also announced the launch of its ASEAN-specific R&D Accelerator on the same day, calling for students, start-ups and scientists to partner with them to accelerate the development of new products from ideation to commercialisation.
“Joining the R&D Accelerator will give partners access to Nestle’s R&D expertise, co-working spaces, test kitchens and equipment for upscaling,” said Nestle R&D Singapore Center Managing Director Guglielmo Bonora.
“This can facilitate the rapid upscaling of products for a test launch in real market conditions within six months.”
Hauser added that Nestle has 10 accelerators across the world, some being category specific such as in Switzerland which focuses on dairy and plant-based innovations, but for the one in Singapore it will be region-specific to only the South East Asian market.
“This accelerator is unique as it is located inside the R&D Centre itself and participants will have direct access to expertise and infrastructure e.g. using the prototyping kitchen to test their ideas and then scaling up quickly using the pilot lines, all of which will accelerate the pace of outstanding innovations,” he said.